By: Mike Anderson

The Town of Georgina will begin the process of rezoning DG Group’s Maple Lake Estate (MLE) lands in North Keswick as an Environmental Protection Area (EPA), protecting nearly 500 acres of the North Gwillimbury Forest from any future development.

This follows the dismissal of DG Group’s request to review LPAT’s December 2019 decision, which prevents the developer from building a large scale development on the forest’s environmentally significant woodlands and wetlands that form part of the Lake Simcoe watershed.

The Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) turned down DG Group’s request on May 14, but for some reason did not advise the Town or North Gwillimbury Forest Alliance (NGFA), the local environmental group that’s been fighting the development, of its decision until July.

Despite the delay, NGFA Chair Jack Gibbons welcomed the news.

“Well, it’s a great decision. It’s a final “No” to Maple Lake Estates. And it sends a very clear message to the Town of Georgina that wetlands cannot be developed,” he said in an interview with The Post.

“The Town is now legally obliged to amend the Maple Lakes Estates’s zoning bylaw to prohibit any development. They have to do it in three years, but we’re hoping that they will amend the zoning bylaw much sooner to ensure that that the lands are protected.”

According to Harold Lenters, Director of Development Services, the Town will amend the official plan and remove the MLE lands’ urban residential designation, as part of a wider zoning bylaw update this fall.

“I see us proceeding in the fall,” said Mr. Lenters during the virtual council meeting on July 15. “It’s the law. It’s what we have to do. So we will move forward.”

However, Mr. Lenters pointed out there are still a few areas of the MLE lands that will retain the urban designation. But they comprise less than 10 percent of the total MLE lands and, therefore, can’t facilitate the proposed development.

He also said the Town would hire an environmental consultant, which will cost $60,000, to assist staff with the zoning update and amending the bylaws.

While DG Group cannot develop the MLE lands, it still retains ownership. So, it will likely seek some form of compensation from the province — not only for the land value but also for significant development charges it incurred, including $3.5 million it paid to build municipal water and sewer infrastructure to service the proposed development.

Mr. Gibbon believes the province may work out a deal with DG Group, perhaps swapping the EPA lands for lands more suitable for development.

He would also like to see the province work with the developer to create a public nature reserve that could help boost local tourism.

“The wetlands are now protected because of the LPAT decision, but they’re not open to the public. The total lands are about 900 acres when you include their lands south of Deer Park Dr, between Deer Park Dr and Boyers Rd. So there’s this potential for this huge, wonderful publicly owned nature reserve,” he said.

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